August 12, 2013 9:55 am
People have been obsessed with virginity for a long time. In the past, women who were being married off were expected to bring along their virginity as part of the deal. There were various tests of a woman’s virginity, many centered around the blood involved in breaking her hymen. To pass this test, some women turned to fakery.
At the blog Wonders and Marvels, Elizabeth Goldsmith describes early virgin fakes:
A little more research led me to Ambroise Paré, whose 1573 treatise on “monsters and marvels” includes the description of popular techniques, known since the time of Galen, for creating false evidence of virginity by inserting a fish bladder filled with blood into the vagina , so that the sheets on the wedding bed would be stained with the necessary proof.
Rushed, nonsensual, poorly lubricated, piston-like intercourse might abrade sensitive vaginal tissue enough to cause bleeding. But throughout history, in cultures that have insisted on female virginity at marriage, the stakes have been very high. No blood on the sheets deeply dishonored the bride’s family and might even bring charges of marital fraud. Many brides have taken no chances. Often under their mothers’ direction, they have filed a fingernail to a sharp point and on their wedding night, cut themselves on the thigh, producing enough blood to stain the sheets and satisfy tradition–and the mythology surrounding the hymen.
Today, artificial hymens are far more sophisticated. Online vendor HymenShop.com sells kits for $30. “Marry in confidence – your secret is kept,” they say. In 2009, these kits became a point of contention between Egypt and China. The Egyptian government thought about banning imports of the product from China. “Having something like the virginity kit can cause complete mayhem within the Egyptian social life,” Farid Ismael, a member of parliament’s health committee, told the Los Angeles Times. “It can lead to the spreading of vice and the loss of all the good morals and values we had and that totally contradicts with our Islamic beliefs.” The kit is an alternative to costly surgery.
While artificial virginity kits and surgeries might seem funny to some, they’re indicative of a general scientific misunderstanding of both the importance and the available proof for someone’s virginity. Many women, despite never having sex, do not bleed during their first intercourse. And not all women are even born with a hymen in the first place.
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August 9, 2013 3:01 pm
Since a new coronavirus emerged last year in the Middle East, researchers have been working to try and discover the animal culprit behind the bug. Although only 94 people have been infected, more than half of those cases resulted in death. Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, has also turned up in scattered cases throughout Europe, likely brought in from travelers coming from places such as Saudi Arabia.
The New York Times recently reported that virus hunters strongly suspects bats as the most likely natural reservoirs of the pathogen, but a new study suggests another possibility. Camels, researchers found, may be the missing link between humans and the virus.
The researchers arrived at this finding after testing for MERS antibodies in samples taken from various types of livestock and camels in Oman, Spain, the Netherlands and Chile. The cattle, sheep and goats all came back clean, but not the camels. The New Scientist reports:
All of the 50 Omani camels, and 15 per cent of the 105 Spanish camels tested had antibodies to the virus, but none of the species in the other countries did. This implies that the camels must have been exposed to the virus at some point for their bodies to have mounted an immune response.
Though one researcher told the New Scientist that finding antibodies is like finding “tracks in the sand” and is by no means definitive proof that camels are natural reservoirs for the disease, this does at least help researchers narrow down their hunt.
The next step is to look for the virus itself by studying stool samples and nose or throat swabs from the camels. This won’t be easy, says [Marion] Koopmans, because coronaviruses are short-lived and don’t circulate in the host for long.
However, if camels are indeed transmitting the virus, the New Scientist reports, it may be through people eating their meat, drinking their milk or interacting with the animals at markets, when using them for transport or at popular camel racing events.
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August 8, 2013 10:05 am
Surviving the trauma of the Holocaust, one would assume, would likely shave off months or years of life, rather than add them. But that was not the finding of a recent study published in PLoS One. Instead, male survivors of the Holocaust, now living in Israel, tend to live longer than those who left Europe before the genocide began, the authors found. New York Magazine reports:
The authors looked at over 55,000 Polish immigrants, roughly three quarters of whom came to Israel between 1945 and 1950 (directly after the Holocaust, in other words), and about one quarter of whom had come to Israel before 1939.
Men who were 10 to 15 years old when the Holocaust began, the authors found, lived 10 months longer, on average, than those who had already arrived in Israel at that time. Men who were 16 to 20 during those years outlived earlier immigrants by 18 months. This came as a shock to the researchers, since Holocaust victims suffer higher levels of PTSD, depression and anxiety than people who did not experience those horrors, New York reports. (The study also examined female survivors and their counterparts but did not find any significant difference in life expectancy.)
The authors offer a potential explanations for their finding. Victims may emerge from the experience with a new sense of purpose in life, the authors explain in a press release, and a stronger drive to make the most of their remaining time on Earth. Scientists refer to this phenomenon as “post-traumatic growth.”
New York describes another possibility, also posited by the authors in their paper:
It’s possible that those who were strong enough to survive the concentration camps (or many years in hiding—it’s impossible to know how the study’s subjects spent the war years) were bound to live longer.
Selective mortality could help explain why female Holocaust survivors in their sample lived no longer than those women who didn’t: Their physical strength wasn’t valued as much within the concentration camps.
But both of these explanations remain purely speculative, New York points out. Whatever the reason, the authors conclude in their release that the study results “teach us quite a bit about the resilience of the human spirit when faced with brutal and traumatic events.”
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August 7, 2013 10:44 am
The past few days saw a burst of activity in Yemen: drone strikes, evacuations, a wire-tapped conference call of al Qaeda leadership, and a supposedly foiled terror plot. A lot of important events, all on the heels of each other, and, as of yet, there’s no clear thread tying them all neatly together. We’re going to try to sort through what happened, in chronological order, starting with:
Al Qaeda Conference Call
In a report on Sunday, McClatchy wrote that intelligence agents intercepted a phone call between a large number of high-ranking al Qaeda figures, including the organization’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Speaking to the Huffington Post, McClatchy’s Washington bureau chief James Asher said that the intercepted phone call “was pretty much common knowledge in Yemen.”
The phone call, says the Daily Beast, was a conference call between al-Zawahiri and more than 20 other al Qaeda members. On the call, the people “discussed in vague terms plans for a pending attack and mentioned that a team or teams were already in place for such an attack.”
On Monday, more news came out about the plot, “which is reportedly in its final stages,” says the Atlantic Wire.
Embassy Shutdowns Around the World
This past weekend the U.S. closed its embassies in 21 countries, says McClatchy, over worries of the “unspecific threats.” The closings were prompted, says the newspaper, because of worries sparked by the conference call.
Yesterday’s Yemen Evacuations
With the embassy closings already in effect, the situation yesterday seemed to grow more urgent when the staff from U.S. and British embassies were evacuated early in the morning, says the Associated Press. Stars and Stripes said the evacuation was for “non-essential U.S. government civilian personnel” and took place “in the face of a threat of terrorist attacks emanating from al-Qaida elements operating on the Arabian Peninsula.”
With the evacuations ongoing, says the AP, “Yemeni authorities launched a wide investigation into the al-Qaida threat to multiple potential targets in the impoverished Arab nation.”
Drone Strikes Kill Suspected al Qaeda Members
On Tuesday, a U.S. drone shot a missile at a car occupied by four people. “One of the dead was believed to be Saleh Jouti, a senior al-Qaida member,” says the AP.
The drone strike, says Salon, comes “within the context of an uptick in drone strikes in Yemen of late.”
That strike was followed by a second, says CNN, which took place today and killed six people: “A local security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told CNN that he does not believe any of those killed Wednesday were senior al-Qaeda members.”
“It was unclear” says CNN, “whether Tuesday’s strikes were related to the security alert in place in the country since U.S. officials intercepted a message from al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri to operatives in Yemen telling them to “do something.”
A Foiled Terror Plot
Today, Yemeni officials say that they stopped a terror plot organized by al Qaeda, the one talked about in the conference call. The New York Times:
Yemeni security officials said part of the militant operation included a plan to take control of the Mina al-Dhaba oil terminal, which is run by Canada, in the Mukallah region on the Arabian Sea in the country’s southeast. The officials did not say how the plot had been disrupted.
The plan would have involved many Qaeda operatives wearing Yemeni Army uniforms to seize the port and then attack, kill or kidnap foreigners working there, the officials said.
As the BBC reports it, the plot could have been much more elaborate:
Yemeni government spokesman Rajeh Badi said the plot involved blowing up oil pipelines and taking control of certain cities – including two ports in the south, one of which accounts for the bulk of Yemen’s oil exports and is where a number of foreign workers are employed.
“There were attempts to control key cities in Yemen like Mukala and Bawzeer,” said Mr Badi.
According to the BBC, “the US is reported to be preparing special operations forces for possible strikes against al-Qaeda in Yemen.”
The BBC’s Abdullah Ghorab, in Sanaa, says there are unprecedented security measures in the capital, with hundreds of armoured vehicles deployed around the city.
Tanks and troops have surrounded foreign missions, government offices and the airport, and senior officials are being advised to limit their movements.
A human rights advocate in Sanaa, Samia Haddad, told the BBC’s World Update programme that the atmosphere in the city was tense.
“Everybody is feeling that there is something going on, but nobody knows what is going on exactly,” she said.
There is a lot of activity and a lot of confusion about events among which the connection is not yet entirely clear. One way or another, this is going to play out over the coming days.
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July 2, 2013 2:40 pm
In April 2012, the first cases of a novel coronavirus called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) emerged in the Jordan. The disease has only caused 77 known infections, but more than half of them have resulted in fatalities. Saudi Arabia has suffered the highest number of incidences, and the disease has also been carried by plane to a handful of countries in Europe. Virus hunters are now searching for the source of the pathogen, which, like many other diseases, likely originated in an animal. The New York Times reports:
Finding out where in the environment the disease is coming from might make it possible to tell people how to avoid it.
Bats are the leading suspect, because they are a reservoir of SARS and carry other coronaviruses with genetic similarities to the MERS virus. Bats could be transmitting the disease directly to people, or they might be spreading it to some other animal that then infects humans.
Bats have been pinpointed as the most likely culprits behind other zoonotic diseases, including deadly ailments such as the hemorrhagic fevers, Marburg and Ebola, and viruses such as Nipah and Hendra. Researchers have set up traps in abandoned buildings in Saudi Arabia where bats roost. In Saudi Arabia, the researchers snag the bats in nets, collect samples to test them for the virus, and then let them go, unharmed. The Times:
It takes about 15 minutes to process a bat — to weigh and measure it, swab it for saliva and feces samples, and collect some blood and a tiny plug of skin from a wing for DNA testing to confirm its species. The specimens were then frozen and sent to the laboratory of Dr. W. Ian Lipkin, a leading expert on viruses at Columbia.
Bats are not the only animals under suspicion, however.
The team has also tested camels, goats, sheep and cats, which might act as intermediate hosts, picking up the virus from bats and then infecting people. One reason for suspecting camels is that a MERS patient from the United Arab Emirates had been around a sick camel shortly before falling ill. But that animal was not tested.
In the Middle East, camel racing is a popular spectator sport. Like horse racing in the West, camel racing attracts large crowds, so coming into contact with an infected camel is not as far-fetched a scenario as it may seem.
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